BookRiot: #ownvoices in Oceania

I can’t believe it’s already August.  I feel like I blinked at my child’s Field Day in the middle of June and I arrived here.  It’s been wonderful, of course, just seems like all the weeks of plans I made will be over way too soon.  Another summer I’m trying to make awesome for my kid gone.

It’s back to BookRiot reads, and although I feel I’m moving along at a good clip, I also get worried about fitting them all in with the seasonal reads to complete my year of probably more reading than I needed to do.

.  And cheating with diversion reads.  Cheating!  That’s really the problem.

And my own whiteness forcing me to look up the definitions of Oceania.

An Ownvoices Book Set in Oceania:

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Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, Albert Wendt

This is a collection of shorts written about the realities of traditional island life.  He wrote longer, more epic type stories as well, but I thought a collection of shorts might give me a wider taste of the region than a story focused on one family.

The writing was simple and without flourish, even though the style does change in some stories based on who is narrating.  The stories take place in a land of patriarchy and poverty, where men and their silly whims seem to rule where women only exist in their relationship to men.  Women need to be virgins and then stay home to bear children.  Women are nags and crazy if they get in the way of what men want to do.  They talk about boys becoming men by standing up, girls become women just by having sex.

The story I read most compulsively, and because I only could get it in paper form on the football field during practice, was Pint Sized Devil on a Thoroughbred, which is about a small man who is orphaned and grows up to be a classic con artist. He uses people and indulges in every imaginable and available sin and is still a hero in the eyes of his enabling family that he uses terribly through his short time on Earth.  I don’t know why it was compelling, but maybe it was because it was a character study that brought out my understanding of the culture at large.  Also The Cross of Soot stood out to me, too, a story of a boy interacting with adult male prisoners and it being a coming of age of sorts.  But mostly they were flat characters chasing after their ids.

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The Whale Rider, Whiti Ihimaera

This is a story about how a culture will go on in a changing world:  there is no male heir, but a female heir, to the Maori tribe, which is unheard of.  She has to prove herself in a way no male ever has in order to save her tribe, using her gift of communing with whales.

This was only a three hour listen, done easily in my commute to Albany on my week off to take my child to robotics camp, but it had so much more depth and color than Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree.  It had the same feeling of rigid patriarchy, but there was so much more to the women.  This is about not only a woman as a sign of changing times, but also about the environment signaling changes.  Both books were about cultures in Oceania making their way into the modern world, but I felt so much more actually changed in this book, in a good way, in these stories.  I, and anyone else reading this would, root for the little girl who is pining for the love of her great grandfather and destined to rule.  BookRiot recommended this one so I know it counted, and it was a great story.  Easier to get through and digest.  Softer on the feels and sensibilities than Flying Fox.

It’s also a movie I haven’t seen.  I’ve seen barely any adult movies since like grad school.

As usual, I’m grateful to BookRiot for pressing my horizons.  Even though Flying Fox was a press at times to get through.  And I almost counted it in shorts, but then I got caught up in the shorts I was already doing, and there wasn’t room for that sort of cheating.

August will be completely BookRiot, so stay tuned for how I get through the challenges.

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The Final Summer of Shorts

It’s the final week of shorts and already the last week of July.

It’s been an awesome July, watching my son play football unexpectedly well (my kid is good at sports but last year he wasn’t ready to run the ball until the last game), soaking up the greenery of the world at this time of year, and the week I took off to take my son to robotics camp where I got a ton of reading done and pushed myself to get back into some sort of writing.  It has been a challenge with all the changes at work and the busy of summer to focus on creative things, but the week off with some time to myself seemed to help.

As far as shorts are concerned, this of course was a rabbit hole.  So many collections to read and explore and admire. I could have done two months plus of shorts with what I had in my collection still, but I wanted to be sure I got through the BookRiot books for this year, too.   I spent my reading time doing both during my rides back and forth to Albany and my pillaging a library out there while he was at camp.

There was a Starbucks trip but the books were better at the library.

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Trigger Warning:  Short Fictions and Disturbances,  Neil Gaiman

A collection of short works by Neil, a few were poetry,  a few were like fairy tales, a few were the typical short stories/science fiction/fantasy some with characters borrowed from other places. I thankfully listened to the forward in which he talks about how this collection hangs rather loosely together and where they are from.  The title of Trigger Warning is to suggest that these pieces are united by hopefully getting the reader to feel about the works presented.   He talks about trigger warnings on things on the internet now and his wanting people to read about things that will make them think and feel, stir them up a bit, learn from them, even if the experience is intense.  I have seen others have conflicting views on trigger warnings, believing them to not be valuable things.  I probably am mixed, there is enough trauma in this world to give people the warning that they can avoid encountering something that makes them feel triggered or unsafe.  It can be a way of rebuilding a sense of safety.

You’d think the writings would be a little more provocative with that kind of title, and the stories are good, and thought provoking, and like the blurb promises, “talks about who we are behind the mask”, but they aren’t over the top or super edgy.  This is only my third work I have read by Gaiman but it seems to be in keeping with his other works, thought provoking, interesting, but not too edgy.  Things wouldn’t have made as much sense without the forward, however, I am in a bit of a slump about being confident in my writing and he talks about all the commissions and accolades the collected works have gotten.  Not that I ever thought I would be Neil Gaiman, but it was a pretty strong reminder that I was not put on this earth to be Neil.

I liked his fairy tale like stories the best, like the layers he added to the Sleeper and the Spindle, and the stories where there are murderous plots afoot.  I keep thinking about the story were a dwarf is led to a cave of treasures and what he finds there. It was difficult having him narrate the entire book in terms of keeping track of the beginning and ends of stories.  In Memory Wall there were different narrators for different stories and the end of one story was announced and the beginning of another, which was helpful.  It got confusing especially in Calendar of Tales, which would have been even more confusing without the forward, due to them being shorts.  Not that Gaiman cannot do a lovely job of narrating stories in his British accent and emphasis in all the places that he intended.  He absolutely can do that.  And he didn’t have the weird ending to stories like Oyeyemi where I felt left in the lurch, like I was still missing something.  Neil Gaiman is an artist and I need to read American Gods and his other stuff. T.B.R.

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Tenth of December, George Saunders

A collection of true to life stories that are hilarious but still manage to say important things, grab and move a reader.

I loved Lincoln in the Bardo, but I felt that that book would not have been accessible in the book format, more over audio, so that is a part of the reason I got this lovey on audio.  It’s definitely not like Lincoln in the Bardo, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.  I have seen in advertised all over my bookish life but I had no idea how laugh out loud funny this would be along with it’s poignancy.  I was driving my kid to robotics camp an hour away and laughing out loud.  I have seen in the reviews that it’s hilarious, but I don’t always see the hilarity that other readers see, but this time I did.  Wow.  It was all at once sad, poignant, funny, and moving.  He captured the streams of consciousness that can be heartbreaking as well as just who we are as humans in our every day lives.

Probably my favorite story is the one where the young man who has helicopter parents and a healthy case of tourettes has to make a decision about doing the right thing in a scary situation.  The way the child thinks is funny but the conflict he comes across in the narrative is also very real.  I think it’s a common conflict of teens after years of being told what to do, when all of a sudden they are placed in situations where they need to start acting on their own and what that transition is about, especially when they are in a world that does not allow them autonomy. And that was just the opener, the rest of the stories tumbling  out in their surprising hilarity after.

It wasn’t, as one Amazon reviewer put it, typical New Yorker fiction about white rich people and angst. All of these were very real.  And I can’t say enough about how funny they were too.  I was surprised by the humor that he could put into genuine, real situations.

I am tagging this post also as audio masterpieces because the author narration significantly added to the experience of both of these books.

Two excellent collections of shorts to take in, to finish off the eight I did for this blog series.

Back to BookRiot for August!  The year is already growing short!

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Summer of Shorts: Literary Shorts

My emotional brain compels me to make puns about featuring short fiction for a month but my logical brain encourages against bad puns on my blog.  Bad puns anywhere, in fact.

I took time off work this month to take my son to a robotics camp an hour away and I should really be writing, and I am pushing myself on some projects, but reading while knitting/crafting/playing mindless games has great appeal to me, so also happens more than it really should.  So in reading there is progress.  I’m sure I’ve talked before about that being so much easier on the emotions.

I also want to give myself kudos for keeping up writing more this summer, as usually my summer is too busy to feel like I have the brain space to create and move forward with my writing.  I’m trying to do that this summer and so far I have felt that success has been limited.  A lot of anxiety about getting myself back in the groove and not taking the fact that no one I have submitted anything to has gotten back to me in MONTHS to mean anything about pressing on with this…I can’t let that spirit me away from creation.  I won’t be able to come up with new and exciting things without turning on the faucet on a regular basis. It’s been a tad brutal on the feels, really.

Having reading projects for my blog can save my neurotic writerly soul.

For these two books I chose to review more literary and less supernatural/genre/magical realism type of stories.  Feeling that I was sometimes on the edge of grasping the stories was getting tiring.  I wanted a literary break from all the weird magical stuff I can get my readerly self into.

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Runaway, Alice Munro

A collection of short fictions featuring more mundane topics of lifespan issues and relationships, mostly love, all set in Canada.

I have wanted to read Alice Munro forever but for some reason I was concerned it would not be as arresting as it ended up being.  I was wading around for a few weeks in more diverting stories and I wasn’t sure how much magic she could make out of the mundane.  And I mean, like, literary magic:  beautiful writings, astute observations on the world, interesting turnout of plots.  I don’t mean secret powers, fantasy worlds and supernatural happenings that characters take for granted.  I got the audio of the book, even though I have had a hardcover copy for years, as an assist with this if needed.

Runaway, the title story, absolutely reeled me in.  The moody husband and the disappearing goat and the wife who isn’t sure how much more she can take.  I wanted more of Munro’s economical writing for complex human stories after that.  She can be both logical and unexpected at the same time, and I really admire that level of artistry.  I have seen criticism that she is too neat, but first of all I needed some neatness over the way that the stories in the previous post had ended, but I also felt that not everything was all tied up at the end.  One character doesn’t understand an unexpected estrangement, another doesn’t really say why she doesn’t want to marry a particular boy who has taken her into his family.

I liked that Munro mostly wrote about intelligent women that didn’t easily fit in anywhere, ones who were made unpopular by following their passions and being who they were, but who also were capable of falling in love with men.  They tried not to sell out and tried to be who they were.  I can get behind that, even though my own environment was more forgiving/accepting of my weird interests and intense personality.  There were two women, one in the first and one in the last stories that were more conforming in their relationships to men, a little more frivolous and selfish, but they stood out to me against the backdrop of the other intellectual and at times frumpy women.  I ate these stories up and admired them.  Wanting to capture her ability to make unexpected happenings still in logical stories.  I’m reading with a writerly eye here.

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Memory Wall, Anthony Doerr

A collection of stories all with the common thread of memory:  losing memories, keeping them, stringing threads of memories between generations to pull back people we have lost.

My writerly reading craves Anthony Doerr.  After I read All the Light You Cannot See I began immediately collecting his other works, and I have reviewed his other collection of shorts, The Shell Collector, on here.  He never disappoints with his beautiful writing, metaphors with apt and vivid words, his knowledge of natural history and then his juxtaposition of all of it.  The touch of luminosity he adds to the every day stories. His knowledge of different times and lands and people.  I admit I had stalled out after the first story, Memory Wall, which was beautiful and complex, that I read because I want to write like him, but my brain wasn’t going along with it.  I picked it back up as a part of my July of shorts, knowing I could trust that he would caress me with literary words.

I have to say that the last story, Afterworld, blew me away.  I couldn’t get the book away from my face. An epileptic orphan who escapes the Holocaust is dying at the end of her life under the ministrations of an adult grandson.  The epilepsy, and the other girls int he orphanage and the encroaching doom of the camps and then her being saved (sorry not sorry spoiler on that), her survivor’s guilt, all gorgeously layered and slipping between times to put this narrative together.  Just wow.  I can’t say enough and it’s difficult to even describe the magic in this story.  I have always loved his writing and he continues to surprise me.

Interesting that for weeks I was dabbling in distraction and now I wanted the comfort of something literary.  Something that enchanted regular days by seeing them through a writer’s different set of eyes.

Next week is the last week of shorts posts!  Stay tuned!

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Summer of Shorts 2: The Bloody Chamber and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Week Two in my summer of shorts.  Have I mentioned my deep and abiding love of summer?

I spent this week off, taking my son to a local camp programming robots to ease up the Mom guilt of working year round and my son asking me why I do that, and my honest response of not being able to be home all day every day and be happy.  My middle ground is taking more time off in the summer to be with him and do things with him.  I’m trying to paste together an excellent childhood for him, which would be impossible if I didn’t go to work most of the 18 years that he is with me.

I work with kids and I know that most of the memories they reference when asked what their favorite memories are are the small things.  A time when a parent showed up to something.  Day trips, sports games.  But I still want to do the most I can with the time I have.   Maybe this has amplified with the crazy developmental strides I have seen in my son this year.  Right now he’s cutting his own nails without my asking or prompting him.

But the shorts I am talking about today don’t have much to do with my pervasive mom guilt.  I enjoyed them more than the two books I reviewed in last week’s post, and they had both been long time TBR hangers, which is partly the purpose of dedicating a month of summer reading to short forms.

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter

This is a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a decidedly Gothic and romantic/sexual spin on them.  Carter also adds a significant dash of horror in there. I can see how fairy tales are a blank slate of sorts, a skeleton plot on which to project any theme desired, spin it in any sort of way.

I like fairytale retellings, and I love a Gothic feminist spin. The tone was set by the first story, Bluebeard, which unspooled a terrible and beautiful, enchanting Gothic tale. I only listened to this on audio and it would have been helpful to have it in print form, because sometimes I didn’t know if a story had changed into a different story or the same one from another perspective/narrator.  It would have been good to check where one ended and another began in a few instances.  Sometimes the beasts felt like they overlapped.

The narration was haunting, the retelling and the new spins enchanting.  Themes of inequality between the sexes and the precarious way women had to live in those times were pervasive in the narratives.  Lots of blood in many forms:  death, first menses, virginity/sexuality.   Transporting and for how long it’s been waiting for me to devour it, it was worth the long range eyeball.

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What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

A collection of tales, some that felt with a tinge of supernatural/magical realism to me (never a bad thing with me unless involving weird sexuality) all having a key involved.  The key isn’t to the same thing every time, and the key is often the entrance to another layer of story rather than the end/resolution to the story.  Keys are mentioned in the blurb but I actually had not read the blurb and I went back to it after about halfway through, maybe not even that far, noticing yet another key while listening to the narration of stories.

I feel vindicated in that other Goodreads reviewers mentioned that these tales are weird, disorienting, and would need a second pass over to collect all the bits.  It is truly a writer whose stories do that much to a reader, turn us upside down and wonder if we had missed something.  They would end abruptly too, and I would go back to my kindle version to be sure the story actually ended and another one had started.  Of course the narrators were different but often I was like wait did that one from before truly resolve enough to be considered done?   Other readers commented that the ends of the stories lacked an umph or a satisfaction for them, too, wondering if they had missed something.

Probably the story that resonated the most with me was Presence.  I don’t know if it is because the main characters are psychologists and one works with children and I could relate more in this aspect. Initially I bristled at the main character being a Psychologist but also on her third marriage and in her own treatment.  It’s not that we don’t need treatment, it just initially made me wonder why she was a little dysfunctional and in a healing profession, until Oyeyemi goes into her past as an adopted child, as well as her husband being an adopted childhood friend, and all the issues that come with that.  But then they test out a method he is using to help grieving people that ends up being haunting, weird, and capitalizing on connections that she had been missing from her life. Like I said, all the stories are a little disorienting and this one was not different, but it was also heartbreaking.

I have seen calls for submissions that want work reminiscent of Oyeyemi, and I don’t know if I have it in me as a writer to extend myself so loosely into the world like she can do. White Is For Witching was lovely but loose as well.  I do my monthly short story with the writing group I love but I haven’t been able to creep out to such dimensions.  I think I need to read more Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, both of whose works I have sitting on my Kindle.

Summer of shorts continues into next week.  I think I could be taking more risks with my own writing of shorts.  It probably means I need to be writing more.  Isn’t that always the solution?  The hidden answer to everything?

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Books Written about the Prison Experience

It’s the last weekend of June and it’s been an insane month of changes for me.  I am going to be taking new responsibilities at work and saying goodbye to my first boss in my adulthood career.  I have spent eleven years under his leadership and moving forward will have to figure out my own leadership dilemmas without his counsel.  Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but he was part of my becoming an adult in the world of adults.  I had internships and practica and jobs before the one I have now, of course, but I was always sheltered as a student or one with low responsibility.  I still have a way to go, though, in my emotional development as an adult.  Goals for myself to be the best I can be at what I do and to not compromise myself in the process.

Also, my birthday just went by and I really want to enjoy my 40’s.  I am giving myself two years for the emotional growth I need to enjoy that decade, the one that research shows that adults enjoy the most when looking back at their lives.  I’d really like to stop caring about things that don’t need my emotional energy.

It’s no surprise that after my life and the reads I’m reviewing here I went to the safety of some diversion reads.  All the actualization and growth in my life is a privilege in itself.  These books are about the transformative experience of doing time in prison.  I’m grateful that my growth experiences have not had to involve incarceration, whether from a poor choice or being gravely disadvantaged.   Like, I’ll miss my boss, but my life is and always has been a delightful array of choices and will continue to be so.

And I diverted a tiny bit from the category because they were supposed to be written in prison but they are about prison experiences, likely composed after the fact.  So I cheated a little.  I don’t think either of these were actually written in prison.  Sometimes I think that if I went to prison I’d do a lot of writing, but I think I’m assuming my privilege would extend into a situation where it would fall painfully short.

A Book Written In Prison

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The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton and Laura Love Hardin

A black man in 1980’s Alabama is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.  He is eventually exonerated, but not without a grueling number of years of surviving and trying to clear his name from his extremely disadvantaged standpoint.

This was as riveting as it could be depressing.  Ray Hinton wasn’t born with much but he was likable, just trying to make it in the world before he was imprisoned, and then when he comes out of his emotional dark place to make the best of his situation and survive.  He was impoverished and loyal to his family, and got through it out of others’ undying loyalty to him, both family and when he finally found a lawyer that could get him out.  How he got tossed onto death row without the usually precursors of trauma and abuse and how he was stuck there and what he discovered about the world and about himself were all a compelling journey.  One that I was grateful to experience from the outside.

Stories about inequality, privileges, and resilience have a place in our culture and it’s no surprise to me that Oprah has featured this book.  Bad things still happen to people in this country on the basis of race, and people still hang in there in terrible situations that make most other people’s lives look pretty okay.  I’m feeling pretty white here over my sadness over a change in leadership at my work and what it means to me, the fact I have a career that I can take as far as I want.

The other prison book I read is Prison with Privilege.  Nothing like Hinton’s soul crushing years on Death Row in the Deep South, smelling other people dying and waiting for his turn.

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Orange Is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

The title sums it up and it’s a Netflix series, so I can keep this short: Piper ran a suitcase of drug money during a less focused time in her life and had to spend 15 months in Danbury Correctional Facility when the people she worked for ratted her out when the ring was busted.

Hilariously I binge watched Season One of the Netflix series in the winter of 2013, when I had a year old baby and a husband watching football in another room.  I didn’t then appreciate the intersection of these facts to create the rare opportunity for binge watching such an adult program.  It was one of those where I could keep going once I got started but I had to be willing to face some of the cringe worthy intensity that makes the show as appealing as it is, and then I would get hooked.  I can’t do this one episode at a time.  I won’t push through the whole thing.  I can only binge it.

Since I saw the show I was going to read the book.  I knew it was dramatized for Netflix, but most of the elements I remember from Season One are in the book, just to a lesser degree of drama.  The show made me petrified of going to prison and I became paranoid for a few weeks that somehow I’d get framed into such a situation.  The book didn’t make it seem exactly appealing, but slightly less traumatizing, until she is transferred to another correctional facility to testify in court.

I’m not well versed in books written about prison experiences, but I am willing to bet that this particular book brings an element of privilege that most others don’t.  She is white, she is well educated and well loved, something she knows sets her apart from the population.  She talks about how her advantages get her through it and how she learns to use her connections to others better, rather than doing it all on her own.  Ray Hinton’s connections also get him through his harrowing experience.  Our connections and the meanings we assign to experiences are what helps us to survive.

She talks about this but I don’t think she looks down on the other prisoners. The show also tells more about the backgrounds of the prisoners to help people understand how women end up in Danbury.  The struggles that lead them there. I always feel that the world could do with more empathy and I get behind any form of entertainment that helps to grow it, especially for the disadvantaged.

So good, but so difficult.  Hopefully next week starts a new chapter of summer posts.  I’m probably reading too much.  I’m trying to keep the joy in my writing but probably avoiding it a little with my reading.

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Not typical: Two Books about the Neurodiverse

I have to say that in June, I believe myself to be living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.  Everything is lush and green, birdsong trilling through the trees, fish jumping, ducks and geese on the water with new babies.  Everything is teeming with beauty.

Usually I slow down on my posting at this time of year and while I am trying not to this year, I see where I get busy with traveling to where it gets to be difficult.  Not to read, really, because audiobooks make car rides beautiful things (and walks, and crafting time), but sometimes to make sure a post gets in on time.  On top of the fact that lately, after this post and the next one, all I have wanted are diverting reads.  It’s a privilege to even have diverting reads, to even be able to take breaks from the realities I read about.  I’ll say that straight out.  Today’s post involves two books of walking around in someone else’s shoes.

A Book by or About Someone who Identifies as Neurodiverse:

 

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The Reason I Jump:  The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A young boy with autism is able to answer questions that others pose to him about what it is like to be autistic and why he does what he does.  It’s not long and is a basic Q&A, but that does not detract from the enormous value of this book.  The preface is by a parent whose own child is also locked in this puzzling and overwhelming world and he also speaks to the magic and value of getting a chance to hear what it is like to be neurodiverse, for the world to be processed in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.  When developing an intervention we always want to know, as best we can, what causes something, what makes someone act the way they do in order to see what else we can do to either manage or sidestep it altogether.

Even though it is short, I didn’t do this straight through.  I had to take breaks.  It’s a nightmare trying to imagine from my relatively neurotypical perspective what it is like to always have so much to process and deal with all the time and feel ill equipped to do so.  Feeling that it takes a long time to do what is asked because my brain has not gotten there yet to figure out and do what is needed.  I mean, this is why it’s a challenge on the list.  Because it’s not easy, and it will make me slow down more when intervening with someone who is on the spectrum.  Rarely are valuable lessons easy to learn.

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A Mango Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A middle school aged girl discovers that her ability to assign colors and shapes to tastes and sounds is actually a diagnosis (synesthesia) while struggling also with the loss of her grandfather and the changing world and life of being in middle school.

I deliberately chose for my second read a book that was not just autism.  There are many ways to be autistic and there are many ways to not quite process the world the same as others, and I have read books with autism in them for other challenges.  I have wondered about synesthesia since we talked about it in graduate school and have always felt I had a tiny bit of it myself, assigning colors to things like months, days of the week, and numbers.  Like, I have always thought of the number 4 as a pale pink.  It’s faded away some since my brain has had more to do than visualize numbers and words, but that would make sense with how the brain prunes back extra connections that it isn’t using.

I loved this book.  It was about being different and finding your place in the world with a neurological condition, but it was also about the normal issues of grief and loss, first crushes and other constantly changing relationships with peers.  I read through this one pretty fast.  It was still normal enough for me to get carried along by the plot.  It was enough about normal life I think for a child in the intended audience to read it and get something out of it.  It’s also a great book, a little less intense to digest.  Intensity isn’t bad but I have been finding lately that tempering it can be helpful when I am chugging through reading a writing goals.

Speaking of goals, I finally chose a number, 80, for my Goodreads Challenge.  Mostly because Goodreads will provide a spot where I can easily check my book progress this year.  I try not to  make my reading so much about progress, but I do.   June ends next week (with my birthday, of course) and as of this posting I have read 17 of the 24 categories, my added bonus of two books per category.  With, of course, the manga and comics pushed off to the end.  And I am doing something other than challenges for July but I actually found at least one book that fits that.  But I say I’m mostly on track, mostly because although I only have 14 challenge books left in 6 months, I also take time for scary reads and sometimes Christmas reads, which cuts into the challenge reads time.  And I have been reading some books lately just because I want to.  Getting seriously crazy up in here, right?

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A Buzz Book and a Man Booker

I love my reading challenges, but occasionally, I need to fit in the buzz books and the award winners, which are represented in two books in this post.

I would complain a little about celebrities starting book clubs if Oprah’s book club, back in the late nineties, didn’t bring a lot of great titles into my life.  I say I’d complain because I wish I lived in a world where celebs didn’t have to encourage people to read, but that’s not this world, and Oprah’s books seem to have a similar goal to mine: read widely, open your eyes to other perspectives and situations in the world.  My mom got into it but it was more about reading the It book, not about opening her eyes really to the plights of others.  I can say that because I don’t even think she knows I have a blog.  Ha.

This one is from Reese Witherspoon’s book club and I confess I have not taken the time to look into the titles she recommends. I usually know what they are because they float through my Audible promo emails, but I don’t look at their blurbs. But when my father wanted me to read this one too, stating it was a favorite of his, I knew at least that it ended okay.  He doesn’t enjoy tragic books.  Then it was described as fitting for someone who loves Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell.  Bruh.  Bruh.  I’ve read most of what they have written and I know what I have left to read.  At least one of Karen’s is getting read for my summer reading posts.   And this one was a six month plus wait on the electronic versions at the library.  So that old feeling crept in that I have sometimes, that if I don’t catch this particular It book, then I can’t consider myself that widely read.

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Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

A young woman, Kya,  abandoned by her family in the Carolina swamps back in the fifties is surviving on her own when the town discovers one of it’s favorites, a white rich guy who was a high school football star in the upper echelon of society, has fallen from a fire tower and is dead.  He has had a romantic relationship with Kya, and she is tried for his murder.

Now, I spent a good part of this book waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I had to coast on my father’s recommendation that he would not tell me to read something with weird sexual relationships or something really tragic.  I had to coast on it because there was no way you could read this book and not become invested in Kya.  I know about attachment and I feel Owens describes it well:  yearning for closeness with others and to feel connected, but with so few opportunities, the times that she gets burned are not easily recovered from.  Periods where she feels she is better off alone or with her more casual friendships, like the one with the black couple who buy her oysters for subsistence and give her things that she needs.

Other than becoming invested in Kya, I was concerned about how much like Karen Russell this one was.  I think they meant more that it channels Swamplandia!  her 2012 Pulitzer finalist, with feral children making their way in a unique environment.   Russell is brilliant at setting up scenarios in unique environments. There were not the weird sexual relationships that characterize her short stories, at least in her collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. But nothing weird, no getting raped by her dad before he left, no neighborhood children hurting her. (Sidebar:  I have Russell’s two other story collections right now and I haven’t read them yet! And she has read her stories on Podcasts I have not consumed!)

This was brilliant also in its focus of natural history entwined with the American South at that point in history, a time that many think of as the good ol’ days, but shows the reality of the marginalized at that time and the slowly changing attitudes toward the marginalized.  The natural history part was also reminiscent of Anthony Doerr, but the writing is probably more like Kingsolver without the doom and gloom of how we are ruining the planet.   Kya’s love and interest in her environment, mixed with her complicated relationship history with members of the outside world and the portrait of the outside world at that point in time combine to make this novel’s compelling brilliance what it is.  I don’t regret using an entire Audible credit on it.

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Milkman, Anna Burns

Milkman, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, is less accessible than Owens’ book, even though it also involves the complications of being a female who is different in a world where being different isn’t welcomed. A young woman is being pursued by an older man in 1970’s Ireland, and although she does not want the attention, it sets off rumors and commentary and judgments on her.

There is a plot, but I felt it was a little slow and rambling to get there.  It read mostly like a stream of consciousness.  I primarily listened to this as a way of consuming it, and I think the female narrator with the Irish accent helped bring this one to life.  I think it is supposed to be the rambling thoughts of a typical girl in that day and time who is interesting.  Who reads while walking and doesn’t want her mother to pressure her into the correct social behavior at the time, like marrying young and in general just not being true to herself.  The language was intentionally repetitive, discussing ‘political problems’ and being ‘beyond the pale’ and ‘maybe-boyfriend.’  No one is named. The protagonist tries to avoid the man and can’t seem to explain to anyone her feelings on it and be believed and taken seriously.  It’s assumed that since he is showing attention to her that she is willingly jumping in his bed, despite being significantly older than she and married.  I imagine this book encapsulates the frustration of this situation for any woman who is rumored to be involved in something she is disgusted with merely because the man seems to be interested and n one takes the time to listen to her about it.

Both of these books are about assumptions people make about women or anyone without privilege, implying more intention and fault than just matter of course and unlucky coincidence.  Women in these books are both under and overestimated, judged, talked about for being themselves or for situations beyond their control.  And for these reasons I am glad they have been in the spotlight as much as they have.  I’m pleased that buzz books now aren’t completely about the plights of the white and privileged.  I’m pleased that the award winners are about opening eyes, mine included.  Assumptions are dangerous things.

BookRiot lists for June and then something different for July is in the making.

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